In recent years, contact sports, especially football, have received some negative publicity for their potential health risks. There are growing concerns repetitive head injuries can cause mental decline. If you have a child who wants to play contact sports, you may share these concerns.
“Is it safe for my child to play contact sports?” is a question you must weigh against your child’s desires and your own parental concerns. You must also consider other factors, such as how much you trust the coach of your child’s sports team to be vigilant about safety procedures.
Contact sports do have several potential benefits for your child. For example, they can help him or her build physical strength. They also encourage teamwork. Sports participation is also often viewed as a rite of passage and a character-building activity. However, the risks associated with contact sports cannot be completely eliminated and must not be ignored. Make sure you read the information below about these risks and ways to increase the safety levels of contact sports for your child.
The Relationship Between Contact Sports and Head Injuries
You may be concerned about your child getting concussions while playing contact sports. Concussions are among the most common and mild forms of traumatic brain injuries. However, they can be dangerous. Concussions can impair your child’s:
- Alertness and ability to focus.
When your child is young, especially prior to puberty, his or her body and head are disproportionate. He or she is more prone to getting concussions due to having a large head. A single minor concussion may only have short term effects on him or her. However, multiple concussions, such as those sustained during contact sports, can cause long-term disability or brain dysfunction.
In 2017, researchers at the Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center found the risk for long-term side effects from multiple concussions is higher when your child is young. According to the results of the study, repeated head trauma while under 12 years of age causes significant increases in risk factors for depression in adulthood. Similarly, risks of developing behavioral disorders in adulthood are twice as high after childhood sports injuries, according to the study results. The study focused on tackle football players, but any contact sport that may result in repeated head injuries, such as hockey, is risky for your child. If you have more questions or concerns regarding your child’s health, you should make sure to visit a pediatrician in your private insurance or Children’s Health Insurance Program network.
Overuse Injuries are Also Common in Contact Sports
If you want to minimize your child’s risk factors for injury while playing contact sports, you must also be aware of the risk for overuse injuries. Overuse injuries can occur if your child plays a single contact sport for too long without resting. A similar problem can occur when he or she plays multiple sports without taking some time off between games. Since sports seasons are lengthening and indoor venues are becoming increasingly more available, experts say overuse injuries in children are increasing.
Another reason your child may suffer overuse injuries while playing sports is he or she may have a rigid practice schedule. When playing sports in your backyard, he or she can take breaks easily. However, the same luxury is not always available when he or she plays on organized contact sports teams. If your child is young, he or she is particularly susceptible to repetitive injuries like broken bones because his bones are still in a state of continuous growth and development.
There is no exact age at which your child is safe from sports injuries. However, the National Institutes of Health indicates the risks are highest from 14 to 16 years of age if your child is male. If your child is female, the risks are highest from 11 to 13 years of age. You can use the following strategies to minimize those risks.
Choose the Right Time to Allow Your Child to Play Contact Sports
According to experts at the Mayo Clinic, choosing the right time to allow your child to play contact sports is one way to minimize his or her injury risks. Doing so requires you to first make sure his or her chosen sport is age-appropriate. For example, Mayo Clinic experts recommend complex sports begin when your child is at least 10 years of age. Prior to that age, he or she may not be mentally or physically capable of performing at a level necessary to play safely and successfully.
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When enrolling your child in contact sports, you must should first consider his or her physical status. Make sure he or she is physically capable of keeping up with teammates. His or her physical maturation process may not conform to averages. If his or her growth rate is slower than the rates of other members of the teams, he or she may be at more risk for injury. If he or she has a physical illness, such as asthma, contact sports may also be unsafe. To determine age and maturity appropriateness, talk to your child’s coach. Discuss such subjects as:
- Safety measures used during play.
- Policies for how to handle injuries, such as concussions.
Do Not Allow Your Child to Push Himself or Herself Beyond Reasonable Limits
Most experts agree playing contact sports can be a positive experience for your child. However, pushing himself or herself too hard can lead to more injuries than he or she is otherwise likely to receive. Also, the long-term impact of extensive sports injuries can be devastating. Therefore, you must impress upon him or her the importance of letting a coach know if he or she has an injury. It is also helpful to tell him or her to report to a coach if he or she witnesses a teammate getting injured, since not all children report such injuries.
If your child does mention being in pain, make him or her sit out until the injury is identified and assessed. Also, do not let him or her return to play too soon after receiving an injury. He or she may want to keep playing, but physically doing so safely may be impossible. Rest is required for full healing. Returning to play too early may make him or her more prone to repeat injuries. Those injuries may be more severe than the originals, especially if they are head injuries.
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